Blog Post - An Open Source Black History Project or, Why Digital Humanities Should Be Design Driven

Sometimes as those interested in scholarship and technology, we notice a problem and have an idea for a solution that inspires us to actually do something, to "scratch our own itch" while benefitting others as well. Scratching our own itch resulted in launching

At my company, Scholastica, we're firm believers that beautiful things work better, and that beautiful things get used more. The real stories of slaves in America are an important source of knowledge about our country, and should be more widely used and effortless to find. We decided to try and make a beautiful version of these public-domain slave narratives so more people would read the words and listen to the voices of Americans who experienced slavery firsthand.

After seeing the film 12 Years A Slave, I was so excited to read it. I quickly found that while the written memoir was in the public domain, it was hard to read the book online in a modern format. The story is discoverable online, but either in the form of a PDF scan, error-ridden plain text, or on webpages made in the late 90s. Of course, none of these formats is pleasurable for people to read. Frustrated that I couldn't find a place to easily read it on my phone or tablet I ended up buying it on iBooks.

In an era where we've seen the rise of infographics, it's become evident that scholars, journalists, and anyone who wants to convey information to a wide audience knows that design is tremendously important. You'll notice during a commute on the bus or train - or even when you're queuing in line that people consume massive amounts of information via their phone or tablets. Even Wikipedia is shifting into the mobile world.

To commemorate Black History Month, my team at has released a project called Slavery Stories. It's an online destination where people can read written memoirs of former American slaves and listen to recorded ones as well. Furthermore, it's an open source project that anyone can contribute to.

We’re hoping it can be a resource for people who are interested in learning about the history of slavery in the US, as well as a resource for teachers looking for free student-friendly teaching materials. Also, since the content was made to look great on desktop, tablets, and mobile browsers, it's our hope that these stories become more widely accessed through being available in a way that reflects how people currently consume media.


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